Friday, October 28, 2016

Two Gentlewomen in Verona

Our plan all along was to take some sort of excursion out of Venice during our week there. And when we arrived in Venice, we knew the ‘where’ would be Verona. We just weren’t sure of the ‘how.’

Verona was not our first choice for a side trip. Dubrovnik was.

Dubrovnik. Sitting right there across the Adriatic…

Trouble was, getting from here to there was going to be a bit too complicated, given that we were only in Venice for the week. So we settled on Verona, which came highly recommended.

Neither my sister Trish nor I is exactly the tour type, so our first impulse was to take the train from Venice to Verona, and just show ourselves around. Then we read that the train station was not exactly in the city center, and that became a turn off for starters. Fortunately, Trish remembered that our world-traveling cousin MB had recommended an outfit called Viator for guided side-tours.

And there it was, Romeo and Juliet’s Verona Day Trip from Venice.

Not cheap, but they would take care of everything.

Tour day was our only crappy day, weather-wise. Cold, overcast, raining off and on. We were quite happy to have brought our gloves with us.

There were about a dozen people on the tour, and they split us into two groups and schlepped us via mini-van down the Autostrada to Verona – which, with a stop, took about 2 hours. This was not part of the tour-tour, just the transpo. Our driver spoke pretty much no English, although we were able to communicate to him that this was not the sort of weather to have the AC blasting, and got him to put the heat on instead. The most interesting aspect of the van ride was the stop we made for coffee and bio-break. The store sold the usual highway stuff: snacks, drinks, and souvenirs. But it also sold books, including the Italian version of Fifty Shades of Grey. And toys. And small electronics. And, for some odd reason, shower heads. The assortment of goods for sale really made it look like a “fell off the truck” stop.

Soon enough, we were in Verona, meeting up with our guide, Luca, who turned out to be a tour guide par excellence, knowledgeable and witty.

We hit all the tourist high points, of course: the outdoor amphitheater, the cathedral, a couple of other churches, Verona’s version of the Coliseum, a castle, and, of course, Juliet’s balcony. Terribly hokey, that last one. And a bit of a fraud. Although there may have been a real-life Juliet. Sort of. And a Capuleti family. Anyway, if you want to buy something heart shaped with your name on it, the surrounds of Juliet’s balcony is the place for you.

We also saw Romeo’s balcony. Not half as touristed, nor half as exciting: someone had propped a mop in it.

Throughout, our guide was excellent, and I’ll trust that all the informative stuff he told us was true.

One thing that was especially interesting about Verona was seeing the different influences over the years. Roman, of course: bridges, amphitheater, Coliseum. But also Venetian, with many of the buildings having Moorish arches over their windows. And German, as seen in the battlements of the castle and in several other historic buildings. I hadn’t thought about how close Verona is to Germanic lands – maybe 150 miles to the Austrian border. Achtung, baby.

The tour took a two-hour lunch break and while the other tour-ists headed off in one direction, Trish and I went to Osteria Giulietta e Romeo. We did so at the recommendation of an Italian friend whose cousin lives in Verona, who said that this spot had excellent Veronese cuisine. Now, my first thought was that a restaurant named after Romeo and Juliet would be fairly tourist-trappy, but this place was great. One of the best meals on the trip. We did not, however, sample the local specialties: horse and donkey. Last year, while in Scotland, I was brave enough to try haggis. But the thought of pasta with asino sauce? No thanks…

We came back to Venice on the train, Luca having walked us all to the train station and handed us our tickets. It was a far piece from the city center, but we stopped to see interesting sites along our guided way.

If we’d self-toured, Trish and I probably would have hit one church, Juliet’s balcony, maybe the Coliseum – and called it a day. But we wouldn’t have learned about the differences between the French and the Italian approaches to religious paintings (which, of course, I’ve already gotten, but I think it had something to do with the French being more hierarchical and royalist than the Italians). We wouldn’t have picked up on the architectural nuances. And realistically, given how crappy the weather was, if we hadn’t committed to a pricey tour (i.e., already paid), we probably would have taken one look out the window and rolled back into bed. Glad we ended up getting to play gentlewomen in Verona.

That’s it for the big trip to Italy.

Arrivederci, Venice…

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